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Cannabis Act Offences

The Charge

The newly enacted Cannabis Act provides a framework for legalizing, regulating and restricting access to cannabis in Canada. The goals of the Act are to restrict youth access to cannabis and to provide for the legal production and distribution of cannabis while promoting safe use and public awareness of the health risks associated with cannabis. The Act imposes serious criminal penalties on people who break the law, especially those who import or export cannabis illegally, produce cannabis illegally or provide cannabis to youth.

What is legal?

Subject to provincial or territorial restrictions, adults who are 19 or older (in British Columbia) may legally:

Purchase limited amounts of fresh cannabis, dried cannabis, cannabis oil or cannabis plants from authorized retailers;
Possess up to 30 grams of legal dried cannabis or equivalent in non-dried form;
Consume cannabis in locations authorized by local jurisdictions;
Grow up to 4 plants per household;
Share up to 30 grams of dried cannabis or equivalent with other adults.

What remains illegal?

All possession, production and distribution outside the legal system of the Cannabis Act remains illegal. The Act sets out various offences for “Criminal Activities,” with up to a maximum penalty of 14 years in jail.

To protect youth, the Cannabis Act prohibits selling cannabis to anyone under 18 years of age. Giving or selling cannabis to youth or involving a youth to commit a cannabis related offence (such as distribution) are punishable by jail.

Possession of illicit cannabis is unlawful under the Act. Illicit cannabis is cannabis obtained from a source other than a government or other licenced cannabis retailer.

Ticketable Offences

The Cannabis Act, under section 51, sets out that for the more minor cannabis offences, police may commence proceedings by issuing a ticket and a summons to attend court. The types of ticketable offences include minor contraventions such as:

  • Possessing more than 30 but less than 50 grams of dried cannabis or its equivalent;
  • Possessing up to 50 grams of illicit cannabis;
  • Distributing or selling up to 50 grams of cannabis;
  • Possessing 5 or 6 cannabis plants.

The fine for most Cannabis Act ticketable offences is $200.00. Of note, if a person pays the fine within the time period set out by regulation, the person, under s. 52 is found guilty but deemed to have received an absolute discharge.

Criminal Offences

Other than the ticketable offences for minor cannabis offences, the Cannabis Act calls for the criminal prosecutions in cases where, for example, the person is charged with:

  • Possessing more than 50 grams of dried cannabis (or its equivalent) in a public place;
  • Distributing more than 50 grams of dried cannabis (or its equivalent);
  • Distributing cannabis to an individual under 19 years of age (in British Columbia);
  • Exporting cannabis;
  • Producing, cultivating, propagating or harvesting cannabis in excess of 6 plants without authorization.

Recent Successes

R. vs. B.K. – Port Coquitlam Provincial Court

Charge: Assault.
Issue: Whether it was in the public interest for our client to be granted a conditional discharge.
Result: Mr. Gauthier was able to persuade Crown counsel to make a joint submission without the necessity of our client being required to complete counselling. After hearing Mr. Gauthier's submissions the court granted our client the discharge. No criminal conviction.

R. v. R.L. – New Westminster Supreme Court

Charge: Sexual Assault.
Issue: Whether there was a substantial likelihood of a conviction and whether it was in the public interest to continue with the prosecution in this retrial after a deadlocked jury decision.
Result: upon considering all of Mr. Mines' representations, Crown counsel entered a stay of proceedings. No jail. No criminal record.

R. vs. J.H. – Richmond Provincial Court

Charge: Sexual Assault.
Issue: Whether there was a substantial likelihood of a conviction and whether it was in the public interest to continue with the prosecution in this retrial after a deadlocked jury decision.
Result: upon considering all of Mr. Mines' representations, Crown counsel entered a stay of proceedings. No jail. No criminal record.

R. vs. B.J. – Downtown Community Court

Charge: Theft of property of a value not exceeding $5,000
Issue: Whether there was a substantial likelihood of conviction and whether it was in the public interest to proceed with the prosecution.
Result: Mr. Johnston identified weaknesses in the available video evidence which persuaded the Crown to direct a stay of proceedings on the charge. No jail. No criminal record.

R. vs. A.M. = Vancouver Provincial Court

Charges: Assault with a Weapon; Assault Causing Bodily Harm.
Issue: Whether there was a substantial likelihood of conviction and whether it was in the public interest to proceed with the prosecution.
Result: Mr. Johnston provided Crown counsel with information about our client’s circumstances, including his lack of prior criminal offending, his efforts at rehabilitation, and the fact that a conviction for either offence could result in the client’s deportation, an outcome which Mr. Johnston argued would be disproportionate to the seriousness of alleged offences. At the same time, Mr. Johnston pointed out weaknesses in the evidence against our client. The Crown directed stays of proceedings on both charges. No jail. No criminal record.

R. vs. A.V. – Vancouver Provincial Court

Charges: Uttering Threats x3; Criminal Harassment; Breach of Release Order (domestic).
Issue: Whether there was a substantial likelihood of conviction and whether it was in the public interest to proceed with the prosecution of these matters.
Result: Mr. Gauthier was able to persuade Crown counsel that it was more appropriate to deal with these matters in the context of Family Court. Ultimately Crown did not approve the uttering threats and criminal harassment charges and Mr. Gauthier persuaded Crown that there was no public interest in prosecuting the breach charge and to enter a stay of proceedings. No jail. No criminal record.

R. vs. K.L. – Terrace RCMP Investigation

Charges: Assault.
Issue: Whether there was a substantial likelihood of a conviction and whether it was in the public interest to proceed with the prosecution.
Result: Mr. Mines presented additional information to Crown counsel which resulted in Crown  declining to approve any charge.  No criminal record.

R. vs. O.P. – Victoria Provincial Court

Charges: Voyeurism; Criminal harassment.
Issue: Whether Crown could prove that our client actually recorded and distributed images without consent of the complainant.
Result: Mr. Gauthier was able to persuade Crown counsel to proceed only on the criminal harassment charge. After hearing Mr. Gauthier's submissions, the trial judge granted our client a conditional sentence order with a curfew for two months. No jail.

R. vs. T.B. – Vancouver Provincial Court

Charges: Indecent Act; Assault With a Weapon; Possessing of a Weapon for Dangerous Purpose (x2); Robbery; Uttering Threats; Theft of Property of a Value not Exceeding $5,000.
Issue: Whether there was a substantial likelihood of conviction and whether it was in the public interest to proceed with prosecution of all counts; whether a jail sentence was appropriate.
Result: Mr. Johnston identified weaknesses in the evidence which persuaded the Crown there was no reasonable prospect of conviction on the Indecent Act charge.  Mr. Johnston persuaded Crown counsel  to resolve the case on three of the remaining counts and to stay all remaining charges. After hearing Mr. Johnston's submissions regarding our client's personal circumstances and his significant rehabilitation efforts,  the Court agreed to release our client from custody and to place him on a probation order with conditions supporting his rehabilitation. No further jail time.

R. vs. M.G. – RCMP Investigation

Charges: Possession for the purpose of trafficking.
Issue: Whether there was a substantial likelihood that Crown could establish that our client was a willing participant in the alleged drug trafficking scheme.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to provide information and persuade police to not seek any criminal charges against our client. No No charges were approved. Our client's vehicle was retuned. No criminal record.

R. vs. A.K. – New Westminster Provincial Court

Charges: Assault.
Issue: Whether there was a reasonable likelihood of a conviction and whether it was in the public interest to proceed.
Result: Mr. Mines was able to provide additional information and persuaded Crown counsel stay the charge upon our client completing the Alternative Measures Program. No criminal record.  

R. vs. K.L. – Vancouver Police Investigation

Charge: Assault Peace Officer.
Issue: Whether there was a substantial likelihood of a conviction in this case which involved an alleged assault of a police officer.
Result: Mr. Gauthier provided information and a video to Crown counsel which showed that the police made an unlawful arrest thereby giving our client lawful grounds to defend himself. Mr. Gauthier was able to persuade Crown to not approve any charges. No criminal record.

The Defence

Because the Cannabis Act retains the power to regulate and punish for “criminal activity” associated with unauthorized distribution and possession of cannabis, criminal law defences will continue to apply to cannabis prosecutions.

Unreasonable Search

Section 8 of the Charter guarantees the right to be free from an unreasonable search. As experienced drug lawyers, we will analyze the actions of investigating officers to test whether police have, in fact, conducted a lawful search, based on reasonable grounds. Where police overreach their authority, and conduct a search based on a mere hunch or suspicion we will apply to the court under s. 24(2) of the Charter to have the evidence obtained through the unreasonable search excluded at trial. Without the admission of the cannabis that was unlawfully obtained, the court will find insufficient evidence to convict.

The Cannabis was not for the purpose of distribution or sale

In order to prove that possession was for the purpose of distribution or sale, the Crown will usually bring a police expert to court who will testify that the circumstances of the seizure, along with the packaging and weight of the cannabis tend to prove that the cannabis was intended to be distributed. Our experience in defending drug charges allows us to develop arguments aimed at challenging expert opinion that the circumstances of the cannabis seizure are only consistent with distribution and not simple possession. In many cases we have succeeded in negotiating possession for distribution charges down to simple possession charges to avoid jail sentences for our clients.

Lack of Possession

In many situations, accused persons are arrested without cannabis directly in their possession. For example, they may be driving someone else’s car and cannabis is found in an unmarked box in the trunk. A roommate may be charged with possession for distribution but none of the cannabis is found in their personal space of the residence. In these situations, the Crown will seek to prove possession through indirect, or circumstantial evidence. As experienced defence lawyers, we understand the Crown’s burden in proving that an accused had the requisite knowledge and control of the cannabis in order to be convicted. We are dedicated to holding the Crown to the high standard that the law requires when prosecuting cannabis offences. We are committed to defending our client’s rights as guaranteed by the Charter.

Start with a free consultation.

If you are being investigated by police or if you’ve been charged with a criminal or driving offence, don’t face the problem alone. Being accused of an offence is stressful. The prospects of a criminal record or jail sentence can be daunting. Even if you think there is no defence, we may be able to help. To schedule a free initial consultation with one of our Vancouver lawyers, contact us now.